KD2SL Repeater Update, January 2017

Yep, I’ve really let this website slide.  Life happens, with timing and intensity that are difficult to predict or control.

A *LOT* has happened in the past few years.  As time permits, I’ll try to bring you up to speed on all the repeater happenings.  When I last posted, the 10m repeater had just come online.  Since then, the 6m/10m system has been joined by three repeaters on 2m, two on 70cm, and one on 1.25m.  There are some interesting stories about those repeaters and how they came to be, and we’ll get to them soon.

For now, there is big news that needs to be front and center, and it relates to ALL of the repeaters.  Please read the following:


Jack Smith (W2QYT), Tony Hart (KC2VER) and Kevin Tubbs (KD2SL) are pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with the Liverpool Amateur Repeater Club (a.k.a. LARC, W2CM), for LARC to become our sponsor for the following repeaters located on Sentinel Heights, between Syracuse and LaFayette:

  • 442.40 MHz (W2QYT), part of the statewide UHF system
  • 145.15 MHz (KD2SL), part of the Central New York linked 2m system
  • 53.67/29.64 MHz (KD2SL)
  • 146.67/444.00 MHz analog (KD2SL) and 145.31 MHz Fusion digital (KC2VER) linked system
  • 224.12 MHz (KD2SL)

These repeaters are located on transmitting towers owned by one of the nation’s largest broadcasting companies.  Many broadcasters do not allow amateur repeaters on their towers; thankfully this company takes a very friendly position toward amateur operation, and allows our repeaters on their towers at essentially no cost for tower space, inside equipment space and electricity.

However, the company has recently implemented new guidelines for amateur repeaters that requires them to be sponsored by a 501(c)(3) organization, rather than private individuals.  We reviewed our options:

  1. Form a new 501(c)(3) to become the owner and operator of the repeaters. This is much harder than it sounds, and would likely take much longer than the company was willing to wait.
  2. Enter into an alliance with an existing 501(c)(3), to become the sponsor or “umbrella” organization for the repeaters.
  3. Find new locations for the repeaters. This would likely require shutting down one or more of the repeaters, and splitting up the rest to different locations, with moderate to severe degradation in coverage area compared to what we now enjoy.
  4. Shut down some or all of the repeaters and call it a day. Nobody wants to see that happen, because repeaters on prime tower sites are always a strong asset to the amateur community.

We quickly concluded that option 2 was the best path forward, and reviewed the list of area ham clubs:

  • LARC – Has 501(c)(3) status
  • RAGS – Not a 501(c)(3)
  • QCWA – Not a 501(c)(3)

Discussions commenced with the LARC Board, which eventually resulted in the agreement that is being announced in this notice.

We anticipate that you have many questions, such as these:

Q. What exactly is the agreement? Does LARC now own and operate the repeaters?

A. There will be no ownership change. The KD2SL, KC2VER and W2QYT repeaters listed above will now operate under the umbrella of LARC, which means that LARC will sponsor our presence on the towers by signing the lease with the towers’ owner, and providing liability insurance coverage.  The ownership, maintenance and control of the repeaters does NOT change – it will continue to be handled by KD2SL, KC2VER and W2QYT, who are all LARC members.

Q. How can LARC sign the tower lease when they don’t actually own the repeaters?

A. We were completely up front with the towers’ owner about this, that the repeaters would be owned and operated by individual LARC members, rather than LARC corporately. The owner indicated that this did not conflict with the lease terms.

Q. What will change on the repeaters? Call signs?  Nets?

A. The biggest benefit to this arrangement is that the repeaters will remain in place, continuing to operate as they have been. The call signs will not change, and the nets will continue on the same schedule.  The only difference you’ll hear is occasional announcements thanking LARC for sponsoring our presence on the towers.

Q. Who pays for the lease and the insurance?

A. We three repeater owners will reimburse LARC for any and all costs that may be incurred as a result of this agreement. Due to the generosity of the towers’ owner, these costs are minimal.

Q. What about maintenance costs for the repeaters – radios, feedlines, antennas – that sort of thing?

A. The repeater owners will continue to be responsible for all of that. LARC’s role is to sponsor their presence on the tower sites.

Q. Do I have to join LARC if I want to use the KD2SL-KC2VER-W2QYT repeaters?

A. No. The KD2SL-KC2VER-W2QYT repeaters on the TV towers at Sentinel Heights continue to be open to all well-behaved hams, regardless of club affiliation.

If you have any questions, please contact any of the three repeater owners: KD2SL, KC2VER and W2QYT.  Please join us in thanking LARC for their sponsorship, which allows our repeaters to continue operating on the TV towers!  And thank you to everyone who uses our repeaters.

January 26, 2017

Kevin Tubbs, KD2SL – Jack Smith, W2QYT – Tony Hart, KC2VER


That pretty well sums it up!  Feel free to hit the comment link below, or write to me privately if you have any questions: kd2sl@yahoo.com

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Syracuse’s First 10 Meter Repeater

Another brief update:

Today, on a hunch, I connected the 10m receiver to the same antenna used for the 6m repeater. Amazingly, it actually works! So, we have a 10m repeater in Syracuse!

Feel free to give it a try, and let me know if you can get in. Also, whether or not you can get in, let me know what antenna, how much power, and where you are.

Remember, the 10m and 6m repeaters are permanently linked (crossband repeat), and you must have PL tone on transmit for either side. Program your radio carefully:

10m Repeater – Output: 29.64 MHz, PL 94.8 – Input: 29.54 MHz, PL 94.8
6m Repeater – Output: 53.67 MHz, PL 103.5 – Input: 52.67 MHz, PL 103.5

If your radio supports it, you can activate tone squelch on receive to keep the squelch from opening on noise.

Join us each Wednesday at 7:00 pm for Tim Colson’s (N2VZD) Central New York Swap and Information net, now a tri-band net!

73 – KD2SL

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10m Repeater Now On…Kinda…Sorta…

A quick note to let you know that I’ve added “experimental” 10 meter RX and TX to the repeater. The RX is VERY deaf, so don’t even bother trying to hit it.

However, I would be interested in receiving your reception reports from the 10m repeater TX, which is 29.640 MHz. It should be transmitting anytime 53.670 is transmitting.

If anyone knows of a good spot for a 10m receive antenna, that can be linked on UHF to the repeater site at Sentinel Heights, please let me know.

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Repeater Version 2.0

Repeater version 2.0, on its way from the car to the transmitter building. That thing weighs at least 125 lbs – good old ‘merican engineering!

New and different?  Yes!  Better?  In some ways.

Back in May of this year, when the 53.670 MHz repeater went on the air, I received an e-mail from a very wise person.  He said, “Congratulations!  But, this is just the beginning.  You will NEVER be finished working on the repeater.”  So very true.

Not long after repeater version 1.0 went on the air, I received a donation of yet another VHF low band Mastr II.  My thought was, “I can bring this home, take my time studying and converting it to 6 meters, and have a spare!”  Well, as most hams can attest, little projects mushroom into bigger projects, consuming way more time and money than you expected.

Now that repeater version 2.0 is on the air, I’ll have a little more spare time to document what happened.  Stay tuned for more frequent posts in the coming weeks, and I’ll fill you in on what’s under the hood.

73 – KD2SL

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Yet Another Antenna Change

UPDATE, December 13, 2012: The antenna configuration is back to “normal,” (and has been since late September, actually) with both TX and RX from the top antenna.

I’ve changed the antenna configuration again.  I think we got all the data we needed from yesterday’s experiment.  To review, on Thursday morning I installed a 1/4 wave ground plane near the base of the tower, about 800 feet below the old channel 3 antenna.  I fed the receiver from this new antenna, but left transmit on the top antenna.  As expected, this degraded the repeater’s ability to hear, primarily because of the difference in height.  Repeater transmit was not affected.

Now, as of 1:30pm Friday (Sept. 21), it has been reversed.  We’re receiving from the top antenna (horizontal polarity), and transmitting from the bottom (vertical polarity).  This will degrade your ability to hear the repeater, especially in fringe areas, but the repeater’s receiver should be working better than ever (no cracklies or desense from intermod).

Thanks to EVERYONE, you have all been really great sports, willing to play numerous rounds of “can you hear me now?”!  I’m very interested to know how well you can hear the repeater in this current arrangement.

73 – KD2SL

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Antenna Change – Reports Wanted

As of about 10am today (Thursday Sept. 20), we are now transmitting on the top antenna, but receiving on a new antenna – a vertical (ground plane) mounted at the base of the tower.  I am very interested to hear your observations.  Your reception of the repeater should be the same, but there will definitely be some differences on the repeater’s receive side.  It is now vertical (big improvement), but it is 800 feet lower (big loss).  Did we gain more than we lost?  Also, the cracklies should be completely gone.  Yet one more positive factor is that we probably have less site noise at this antenna location (i.e., we don’t have kilowatts of UHF being crammed down our throat from the TV broadcast antenna).

So, it is a big unknown.  An experiment.  In a few days, we’ll flip flop and receive from the top, transmit from the bottom.

73 – KD2SL.

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Catching Up

We’re WAYYYYYYY overdue for an update!  It has been a very busy summer; I’ve been doing my best to enjoy it, and that has meant less time for writing blog posts.  Maybe it also means less time for READING them!  At any rate, I’ll get back to the duplexer story in the next post.  But for today, let’s take a moment and review where we stand:

REPEATER USE

I’m very happy that so many have used the repeater, and have been experimenting with antennas and rigs.  We have maybe a dozen regular users, another dozen who show up every once in a while, and an unknown number that listen regularly but don’t transmit.  There is always room for more, please join in!  Everyone is welcome.  The repeater doesn’t “belong” to any one group or person; it is there for all hams to use and enjoy. 

NETS

I have often been asked whether we will host a net on this repeater.  I’m open to the idea, but I don’t have any plans to start a new net.  Rather, I would like to simulcast (link) to an existing net, such as the Wednesday night 7:30pm LARC net on 146.91.  The repeater’s hardware doesn’t provide a way to do this, but an upgrade is planned soon.  When we’re ready to turn on a link to that net (or others), readers of this blog will be the first to know!

RANGE

We’re getting a feel for the repeater’s range.  By all accounts, the transmit range of the repeater is VERY good, even when receiving cross-polarity.  Adirondacks.  Catskills.  Watertown.  Binghamton.  Rochester.  Ontario, Canada.  Northern Pennsylvania.  Western NY hills.  Vermont.  Some of the signal reports from these areas run anywhere from S1 to S9+.  However, one common thread is that some people (especially more distant stations) can hear it, but not bring it up.  We would wish that anyone who can hear it could work it, so it puts our minds to thinking: Why can’t they?

I can think of a few reasons why this might happen:

  • Not enough power.  If you’re on the fringe of the repeater’s reach, generally speaking you would need about as much power as the repeater (approximately 100 watts).
  • Poor antenna performance.  Situations can arise where an antenna performs better on receive than it does on transmit.
  • CTCSS tone.  Some hams have had difficulty getting their radio programmed properly for transmitting the PL tone, so we have to consider that as one possibility.  Also, one ham says the repeater’s receiver is too sensitive to tone level on the received signal, and that he had to increase his rig’s tone deviation before he could open the repeater’s squelch.  So far, he is the only one to contact me with this report.
  • 4 – Polarity.  This point gets a LOT of discussion.  Yes, this is a horizontally polarized repeater, and using vertical antennas will reduce your range.  But, a polarity mismatch theoretically reduces your range in BOTH directions equally.  When it comes to hearing the repeater but not being able to work it, I don’t think this is a significant factor.
  • Repeater sensitivity.  This may be the biggest reason.  And I’m not talking about simple bench sensitiviy.  It is a sad fact of two-way radio life that repeater sites are usually very noisy.  This would be a great topic for a future, in-depth post, because it is one of the biggest factors affecting repeater performance.  In short, the collection of broadcast stations typically found at prime hilltop locations produce some amount of wideband noise in addition to their intended signal.  It is kind of like the hiss you hear if you put your ear right up to a speaker on your home theater system.  Such noise from high power transmitters is very low in comparison to their main output signal, but it can, and does impact the ability of a repeater receiver to hear weak signals.  At our location, I’ve measured this RF hash at about 15 dBm above the background noise of the test instrument, or -110 dBm, which is around .7 uV.  Chances are that your receiver isn’t seeing anywhere near that amount of noise, so you have a much better effective sensitivity than the repeater.  In addition to site noise, tests have confirmed that we’re getting an additional 6 dBm of desense from intermod involving the transmitter.  If all of these numbers (and my math) are correct, that’s around 20 dBm (in round figures) of desense.  20 dBm is the difference between 100 watts and 1 watt.  Look at it this way: If you can now work the repeater with 100 watts from a distant location, you could do it with just 1 watt if we could magically remove all the desense.  Think of what THAT could do for the repeater’s range!

Combine some mix of all of these things, and you can easily see why we are getting some reports of an alligator repeater (all mouth and no ears).  The GOOD news is, some of these things can be fixed.  That’s a topic for future posts.

DX

July 17 brought us a fabulous gift in the form of a strong sporadic E skip opening on 6 meters.  I heard reports of great DX on SSB and FM simplex.  If you turned off your rig’s tone encode (to avoid bringing up K2INH 53.05 in Auburn) and kerchunked 53.05, you could hear at least three repeaters coming back!

I worked Kentucky on a repeater on 53.11 (not sure where the repeater actually was).  And, several locals had a rather lengthy QSO on 53.67 with a ham from Daytona Beach, Florida!  It was very exciting to see what 6 meters can do, and why they call it the “Magic Band!”

Aside from that great day, we’ve heard various other reports during this repeater’s first four months.  A ham from Windsor, Ontario (near Detroit) has reported hearing us on several occasions.  One local reported hearing a brief signal on the repeater from Hudson Bay, Canada.  We all look forward to the next big opening! 

UPGRADES

GE Mastr II Low Band RadioThanks to a generous local ham, I have another complete GE Mastr II repeater!  At first I thought it would just go in to storage and be used for parts, but before long I decided to completely refurbish it to become the “new” KD2SL repeater.  We’ll give it a spiffy new controller that will allow for linking and/or a remote base.  The receiver and transmitter will be thoroughly rehabbed to squeeze out every last ounce of performance. 

The rush to get the original repeater on the air back in May did not allow the luxury of time to make these performance modifications, so I’m enjoying the opportunity to do them now, and learn more about the Mastr II in the process.  A low band Mastr II typically is designed to cover approximately 6 MHz of spectrum.  If you want to operate below or above the original design range, it might work, or it might not.  Many of the tuning adjustments in the receiver and exciter can’t tune far enough (i.e., the ferrite slugs won’t go far enough without falling out of the coil) for proper setup in the 6m band unless certain components (capacitors, mostly) are changed.  Again, I’ll have more about this in a future post.

Another important upgrade is the new repeater controller I alluded to earlier.  This will open up various linking opportunities, easier control of various features, and provide more options for identifications and announcements.

Is EchoLink or AllStar in the repeater’s future?  Maybe.

FUTURE EXPERIMENTS

I have obtained a couple of commercial low band antennas – a dipole, and a ground plane.  I intend to install one or both of them at the repeater site, and conduct some experiments to compare their performance to the TV broadcast antenna.  How much difference does antenna polarity make?  How high above ground does a 6m antenna need to be?  Will a different antenna, or split TX-RX antennas provide better repeater performance?  Less crackle?  We’ll experiment and find out!

CONCLUSION

Thanks again to all who have been taken time to use the repeater!  More posts are coming, with information about future upgrade plans, as well as the conclusion of the story of how the current repeater was built.  Until next time, 73 and I hope to hear you on the repeater!

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